Sunday, June 26, 2016

Reprehend With Justice

When you write publicly about Freemasonry, especially in a forum that is frequented by its members and officers, it is not uncommon to receive plenty of criticism and attempts at correcting what are presumed by some to be errors in fact or judgement. So it is with me. I don't get reams of such messages, but I do get them. Depending on the nature of the subject or the contents, I usually try to answer them privately, unless the Brother who sent the missive clearly wants his message circulated more widely. Anyone who has read this blog over time knows that I am not reticent to oblige when a Brother wants to publicly excoriate me for some post I've made.  I always stand by my statements, and am likewise always quick to correct my mistakes when they are rightly pointed out.


This morning, I received a four page email from MWB Jay Adam Pearson, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of AFM of South Carolina  between 2011 and 2013. It was in reference to my post from June 19th ("Arkansas Rumblings"), in which I reported that Grand Master Billy Joe Holder of Arkansas had suspended the Deputy Grand Master, Patrick Carr, and Past Grand Master, Jarrod Adkisson, on charges that have not been disclosed publicly. Neither of these facts are incorrect. However, in MWB Pearson's letter, he points out ten "irregularities" from my original post that he deems to be "in error." He also seeks to call out the " depth of ignorance you have regarding our Fraternity."

He states right up front that he has "little confidence" that his message would be shared on this website. As I have done so often in the past, I post his letter below in its entirety. (To read MWB Pearson's letter, click each page below to enlarge.)

MWB Pearson states it his "ardent desire to enlighten" me, and points out that he is an "honorary member of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas," which apparently makes him feel qualified to speak on their behalf (although, in my own jurisdiction, such a title - if it indeed has ever been bestowed - carries no rights, privileges, or standing of any kind that I have been able to find in our code). In my own case, I am an "honorary member" of the Grand Lodge of New Mexico, but I have never felt compelled to speak on their behalf. But I digress.

Despite his inference, and just for the record, I did not correspond with the suspended Arkansas Brethren concerning their circumstances. I received the initial news from Masons outside of Arkansas, and neither of the two men in question provided any information of any kind to me. Whatever they are accused of, they did not violate their obligations in any way by directly or indirectly communicating with me about it.

MWB Pearson believes that I have apparently not read Dr. Albert Mackey's Jurisprudence of Freemasonry.  He writes:
"It is a difficult read and the text is not for dummies and will require time, temperance, perseverance, and a willingness to study and reflect on our rich Masonic tradition. The text is not for liberal thinking Masons and I perceive it may hold little interest for you."
I find his use of the term "liberal thinking Mason" to be curious, and am unclear as to what is especially liberal thinking about expecting a prudent and wise application of Masonic justice - especially in a fraternity founded on the principles we hold so dear. However, I can assure MWB Pearson that I own two copies of Dr. Mackey's book, and have actually read the 1953 annotated and revised edition from cover to cover in the past. I also own Roscoe Pound's Lectures on Masonic Jurisprudence, and have read it as well. I comprehend both works. But nothing that I wrote in my original post had anything whatsoever to say about my own judgement of the current Grand Master of Arkansas' previous exercise of Masonic jurisprudence, or in anticipation of his future actions. However, I DID speak in very general terms against the practice of SOME grand masters around the country in the past to abuse their position, and I do not retract that point.

The obligation taken by incoming Worshipful Masters in many states before being permitted to assume the Oriental Chair contains some variation of this wording:
"I will not govern this Lodge, or any other over which I may be called to preside, in a haughty and arbitrary manner, but will at all times use my utmost endeavors to preserve peace and harmony among the brethren."
Many jurisdictions also use similar words in their obligation for incoming grand masters. Yet, almost every single one of us has seen abuses by some grand masters somewhere if we've been around for any length of time, and if we have paid attention. Perhaps MWB Pearson hadn't noticed.

No other organization I can think of anywhere chooses its leadership by an advancing line of officers who change every year or so (in South Carolina, it's two), with absolutely zero prerequisite for qualifications, and then gives the guy in charge absolute authority to act virtually any way he sees fit. In many jurisdictions, grand masters have the "Divine Right of Kings," and can suspend or expel members with little or no judicial review. We can claim that we vote, but we all know how hollow a claim that can sometimes be, particularly at the grand lodge level. (Yes, of course there are indeed exceptions to this, where potential grand masters actually run for office and face the possibility of an opposition candidate, and even nominations from the floor of the annual communication. But they are rare.) How many times have we all sat in an election and heard, 'It's hard to stop a train?' 

The reason we do this comes down to one simple word that we invest in the entire enterprise: trust

When a grand master breaks that trust, it can have devastating repercussions, both for a man whose entire Masonic career rests solely on a grand master's actions, and for the entire membership body over which he presides. 

When I spoke at the Conference of Grand Masters earlier this year, I implored the assembled grand line officers to consider that suspension or expulsion should not be the first arrow out of their quivers, but the last. Yes, I have read Mackey and Pound. But we are all Brothers before we are lawyers. It is noteworthy to point out that neither book on jurisprudence by those two exalted Masons contains the phrase from the most commonly used Fellow Craft ritual, "judge with candor, admonish with friendship, and reprehend with justice."  

The obligations Masonic officers take as they progress over time do not ever eradicate the ones they took in their very first three degrees. We are not merely asked to "whisper good counsel in the ear of a brother, and in the most tender manner remind him of his faults, and aid in his reformation."  It is one of our most fundamental duties. 

That is worth mentioning in public every once in a while, if for no other reason than to remind the occasional men who consider misusing their brief but trusted positions that other Masons are indeed watching, and that "all glory is fleeting."



The Pentagram: Masonic? Satanic? Or What?


A Facebook friend tonight who is a Christian was questioned about their Masonic involvement. “I thought you were a Christian,” they said. “Why are you at a Mason thing? Everyone knows they use a pentagram.”


This nonsense comes up a lot on the internet. The pentagram, or five-pointed star, is actually a common symbol. It appears fifty times on the American flag, though somehow conspiracy theorists have apparently overlooked that particular occult symbol apparently placed on our flag by that pagan witch Betsy Ross and her Dark Overlord George Washington during one of their black masses or Satanic sewing bees. 

The pentagram first appeared more than 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamian writings and drawings. The Babylonians used it as an astrological diagram to represent the five known planets—Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, with Venus, the Queen of Heaven, at the top point of the star. The Pythagorean Greeks used an inverted pentagram’s five points to represent the Classical elements of fire, water, air, earth and idea (or “divine thing”). 

Early Christians used the pentagram to describe a very wide range of concepts, from the five senses, to the five wounds of Christ on the cross. Catholics have used it to symbolize the five “virtues of Mary” (Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension and the Assumption). In the 14th-century Arthurian tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, it appears on Gawain’s shield to delineate the five virtues of knighthood: fellowship, purity, frankness, courtesy and compassion.

The pentagram has occasionally appeared in the symbolism of Freemasonry, most prominently as the symbol of the Order of the Eastern Star, part of the Masonic family of related groups known as the appendant bodies. It was created in the 1850s by Freemason Rob Morris and his wife as a group that allowed both men and women to mix in a lodge-like setting. Men who are Masons may join, as well as women who are married or otherwise related to Masons. Morris, an inveterate lover of Masonic ritual, created a ceremony that was initiatory as in Freemasonry, but was dissimilar enough so he couldn’t be accused by Grand Lodges of making women into Masons. 


He based his ritual on Biblical sources. The degree ceremonies of the Order of the Eastern Star tell stories about five heroines of the Bible: Adah, Jephthah’s daughter from the Book of Judges; Ruth, the daughter-in-law of Naomi; Esther, the brave Hebrew wife of Xerxes; Martha, Lazarus’ sister, from the Gospel of John; and Electa, the “elect lady” mentioned in II John. The pentagram as used in the Order of the Eastern Star depicts these five star “points,” and also represents the Star of Bethlehem, while the bottom point supposedly directs viewers to the place of Christ's nativity. Chapter rooms are traditionally laid out with a large floor cloth or carpet representing the pentagram and its star points. At the center of the symbol stands an altar with an open Bible upon it. 


Apart from its use in the Order of the Eastern Star, the pentagram – right-side-up or inverted – does not officially appear in Preston-Webb based Masonic ritual or symbolism in the US and much of Europe (although I am told it is a part of degree symbolism in Scottish Rite Craft rituals in some jurisdictions). Some “tracing boards,” painted symbolism charts used to teach Masonic lessons, in the early 1800s contained five-pointed stars with a “G” in the center as a symbol of both God and geometry. 

A “Blazing Star” is often referred to in the description of the lodge floor as part of “mosaic pavement,” and first seems to have appeared in John Browne’s cipher The Master Key in 1802, as a reminder of “the Omniprescence of the Almighty, overshadowing us with his divine love...” Today, some U.S. jurisdictions contain wording that its use in the pavement is actually meant to refer to the Star of Bethlehem. But in neither case is it described as being five pointed. 

Other researchers have suggested that it may have represented a portion of the Master Mason degree ritual, the “Five Points of Fellowship.” But it was not a common symbol and has not survived in widespread use.

Freemasons, in point of fact, do not venerate or worship symbols. Symbolism is primarily used in Freemasonry as a memory device or an allegory to teach a moral lesson. The inverted pentagram has never appeared as a part of regular, recognized Masonic ritual or symbolism.

The inverted pentacle certainly wasn’t an inherently “evil” symbol when Pierre L’Enfant drew it into the map of Washington DC. The first mention of pentagrams being “good” or “evil” appeared more than 60 years after L’Enfant designed the street plan for the city. In non-Mason Eliphas Levi’s book, Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic), published in 1855. Levi, a French student of the occult and magic, became fascinated with the subject in the mid-1800s, like much of the Western world. His book was the first known mention in print of a “good” or “bad” pentagram. He explained them as a ying-yang balance of good and evil in the universe.
Non-Masonic pentagram symbols: Microcosmic man (l) and Baphomet or Goat of Menzies (r)



A commonly reprinted drawing (above), wrongly claimed to be by Eliphas Lévi, shows the pentacle as a symbol of man with the head at the top and the hands and feet stretched out as the other four points. Called the Microcosmic Man, the head represents the spirit, while the hands and feet represent air, earth, water and fire. The opposite, inverted pentagram in the illustration is supposed to represent the head of Baphomet in the form of a goat’s face. The beard is the bottom point, the ears the next two points, and the horns at the top. Variously described as a demon or pagan idol of uncertain origin, Baphomet was allegedly worshipped by the Knights Templar, according to Inquisition torturers and prosecutors seeking to destroy the knightly order in the early 14th century. However, the symbol of Baphomet as a goat head pentacle is actually no more than five decades old. According to author Stephen Dafoe, its first known appearance is actually from Maurice Bessy’s A Pictorial History of Magic and the Supernatural, published in France in 1961. 

The Satanic connection with the pentagram did not appear until 1966, when Anton LeVey founded the Church of Satan in San Francisco. To its adherents, the inverted pentagram’s upside-down three points are a parody of the Holy Trinity.


In any case, the symbol means nothing of the kind in Freemasonry, and never has.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Let's Make Knights

Yeah, it's one of THOSE posts from Hodapp.

I wrote the following very long piece about the Knights Templar of the York Rite in the U.S. several years ago, and it became much too long to publish as a magazine piece. So, it vanished into my documents file. But the article I posted yesterday by Sir Knight Carson Smith got me to go and look for it. If you're not a member of the KT, feel free to give it a miss. If you are, go get a cup of coffee and let me give you something to think about.




Let's Make Knights

After years of hand-wringing and crying over plummeting membership numbers in Freemasonry, the combination of the declining death rate, the “Dan Brown Effect,” and in general, the return of Freemasonry into the common consciousness of the community, have all started to turn the tide for us. In most jurisdictions we are bringing in more members than are dying for the first time in decades.

So, like a dog chasing the UPS truck down a country road, the question today is, what do we do with it, now that we’ve caught it? The fraternity has had structural problems that have never been fixed that can be traced to when we had four times as many members in the 1950s. We have too many buildings, too many appendant body chapters, and in many cases, way too much bureaucracy for an organization that is 25% of the size it once was.

The good news is that the new wave of young men joining the Blue Lodges are becoming officers and stubbornly demanding that their lodge experience becomes more like what they had thought it would be when they joined. With some notable holdouts, Grand Lodges are mostly loosening their grip and allowing greater flexibility among lodges to be individuals and escape the cookie-cutter mold of meeting, reading the minutes, and fleeing. There is a greater interest in Masonic education than at any time in recent memory. Almost 50 so-called “Observant” style lodges have formed all over the country, but the greater influence of them has been on visiting brethren who take selected practices home to their Mother Lodges and adapt them to suit their own unique situations.

But what about the appendant bodies? One would think that, as membership initiations rise in the Blue Lodges, the Scottish Rite and York Rite would be growing as well. Yet, it doesn’t seem to be happening that way. Masons who advance through the officers’ chairs in the lodges seem to be perfectly happy retiring to the sidelines, instead of moving on to other groups. They have made the Lodge a place they are happiest in on Thursday nights, with little desire to go elsewhere.

I once chatted with a friend who was in the national leadership of a York Rite body, and I asked him about this. "Why should a Mason become a member of the York Rite?" His answer astonished me. “Well, in the Blue Lodge, you only have one opportunity to be the Master of a lodge. But in the York Rite, you have all kinds of opportunities to become an officer in a Masonic body!”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never once met a man who became a Mason because he wanted to be a lodge officer, and I have known very few Masons who enthusiastically wanted to volunteer to be an officer in anything after he joined.

In most cases in the U.S., Royal Arch Chapter and Cryptic Council meetings are everything the average Mason hates about going to lodge: a ritualistic opening, reading of the minutes and bills, closing, and escaping the building as quickly as possible. Most Chapters and Councils don’t even bother with a meal or any social interaction of any kind, and rarely feature anything remotely resembling education, or even discussion about their  own ritual, symbolism, or history of their degrees.

Part of the problem is the overwhelming sense that the Chapter and Council are merely stepping stones to the more glamorous Knights Templar. In many jurisdictions, the three bodies share meeting spaces, officers, and even feature joint petition forms. The built-in inferiority complex is that the Chapter and Council degrees are something to be quickly dispensed with, and one-day York Rite conferrals only reinforce that belief.

The Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction has, in recent years, stressed its role as the “university of Freemasonry,” and created volumes of educational material, as well as its own teaching program. They have recognized that there is far more to the degrees of Freemasonry than can be gleaned by listening to the degree lectures or witnessing a mass conferral in a darkened auditorium. And they have responded to members who have begged for more information in a self-study format. 

Taking their example, in 2012 the York Rite Sovereign College, in partnership with Brother Robert G. Davis, created the Companion Adept of the Temple, a self-study program that covers the degrees and orders of the Royal Arch, Cryptic Council and Knights Templar. Unfortunately, it has not been strongly promoted, and relatively few York Rite Masons even know it exists. But it is a step in the right direction. (You can read about the program, its online materials, and enrollment HERE.) 

But I really want to concentrate here on the Knights Templar. I recently had an exchange on membership in a Masonic discussion forum with fellow Sir Knights in the Knights Templar. One brother was lamenting that Freemasonry, and especially the Templars, had missed the public relations boat in the wake of films like The Da Vinci Code, National Treasure, Kingdom of Heaven, and others. Unfortunately, he opened up a real of juicy worms for me, because what is going on in modern Templary is distressing as we approach our bicentennial celebration next month.

After each Triennial Conclave, it is usually obvious that more and more Commandaries continue to lose their drill teams to attrition. My own, Raper Commandary No. 1 in Indianapolis, has a long and legendary history. Our social room has an astonishing array of trophies and photographs from well over a century of excellence and participation in parades and drill team competition, and they remain the Commandery with more first place awards in drilling than any other in the country. But our Grand Commanders in Indiana, along with many others across the country, have lamented that interest in such activities has long been declining along with the number of Masons who choose the York Rite path to further their Masonic experience.

For the first 130 years of its existence, the Shrine required membership in the Blue Lodge, as well as the as completion of either the Scottish Rite or York Rite degrees before allowing a Mason to petition. That changed in the early 2000s, and now any Freemason is free to join the Shrine and participate in their programs, clubs and antics. This left the Scottish and York Rite scrambling. For over a century, they had a guaranteed stream of candidates who passed through on their way to the Shrine. But today, each appendant degree path is now forced to stand alone on its own merits. 

I had the honor of writing and producing a video for the York Rite, and especially for the Knights Templar, in Indiana over a dozen years ago for my dear and departed friend Larry Kaminsky that is STILL being used, and I have a deep and abiding affection for the Templar Orders. I have been given honors in Templary over the years that were certainly not deserved, because I have not labored long and diligently in their service enough to receive such rewards. I have the greatest respect and admiration for the men who have kept Templarism alive for so many years, and for those who dedicate so much time and effort to its degrees and drill teams. 

Nevertheless, I have a deep concern that the Masonic Knights Templar are at a serious crossroads. The numbers are certainly pointing a boney finger in that direction. And so I will ask some of the same questions of the Templars as a state and national organization as I have in the past of Freemasonry. Please, fellow Sir Knights, be patient. I am not performing a hatchet job here. But I will speak frankly, because no one seems to be confronting these issues head on.

My friend Carson Smith is the most active , passionate, and enthusiastic Knight Templar I know. His participation and hard work have made him legendary in our state, and he has top line signed more than 130 petitions for new York Rite Masons. He freely admits that the Knights Templar are the most expensive of any Masonic body to belong to, as well as requiring more work than any other. His belief is simply that being a Knight Templar is not for everybody. Neither of those viewpoints are particularly wrong.

But what makes the Templars as they exist today attractive to young Freemasons, or to young men off the street who would have to become Masons first? And I'm not asking this to be glib or argumentative. I mean it as a serious point of discussion. What does the average Commandery offer to its new members that will keep them coming back and keep them active? Apart from having a tenuous, if at all existent, connection (that the national organization denies, by the way) to an excommunicated and condemned religious order, what is modern Templary doing to connect its members to their crusading namesakes? 

The panic all across the country over the inability to mount drill teams ignores the plain fact that marching in a $1,000 uniform with a Gilbert and Sullivan hat appeals to a smaller and smaller group of men. While drilling was the national fad in the 1870s, simply because 75 per cent of the adult male population had previously been in the military, over 140 years later it holds little fascination. This is in no way is meant to denigrate the dedication of the men in the drill teams. But call and ask every one of your existing Commandery members and see how many care a fig about being in or even going to watch a drill team. You'll be shocked. Or maybe you won't be. 

In a rude and uncivil 21st century, when we pass more and more laws to replace decency, manners and common sense, would it not make more sense for the modern Knights Templars to make our new mission the making of modern gentlemen? 

I mean teach everything — etiquette, fencing, shooting, dancing, and more. Bring in a local fencing instructor, teach interested members how to fight with a foil, and hold fencing competitions instead of drill teams. Teach them how to tie a bow tie and what classic books every gentleman should have a passing knowledge of. Teach them about sending real thank you cards, holding doors for women, how to choose the right wine and a good cigar. Teach them all those things that our grandparents used to teach us, but have been forgotten by society these days.  

Make every Commandery meeting something to look forward to. Appoint a Commandery Historian, whose job it is to provide some kind of reading or paper or lesson or video at every meeting. The Knights Templar are uniquely positioned to educate an ignorant membership about the history of the Middle East, who the players were and are, and why the current residents are shooting at each other these days. Bring in a local college professor to talk about medieval religious architecture, or the Crusades, or comparative religion, or religious and political upheavals in the Levant. We send ministers to the Holy Land as part of our national charity. Why not send your active Commandery members for a week instead? Or at least teach our members about the Holy Land.

Let’s start making concepts of chivalry and knighthood something worth emulating again. Isn't that a better mission than marching in a parking lot? 

Honestly, when I joined the KT, I really thought this stuff would be going on. The Order of the Temple, done on one candidate at a time, is the greatest, most moving, and downright coolest degree in all of Freemasonry. But once it was over, it became the same contemptible reading of minutes and bitching about non-participation that took place in the lodges.  The night of the first Commandery meeting I ever attended, the Recorder got up and read the minutes. He was in his 80s, and on a portable oxygen machine. But he read the minutes of several meetings, event descriptions and announcements, messages from the Grand Commandery and Grand Encampment, and more. He read nonstop for 40 minutes. That was cruel and unusual punishment for him and the rest of us. 

After he finished, another new member sitting next to me stood up and said, "Instead of listening to that kind of thing again, I would rather have steel pins thrust through my eyeballs. I move that we print and circulate the minutes." The place erupted with protests. One older member actually said, "But if we don't read the minutes, what would we do?"

Seriously.

I joined what I thought was an order of knighthood. I have tremendous hope for the potential of that organization, but it is up to the new generation of leaders to redefine the goals of the Knights Templar, and fast, before it expires.

Please, do not take offense at this, but the answer is NOT to drag as many warm bodies in from the Blue Lodges as soon as we yank them out of Hiram's grave. More members, brought in faster, who become disillusioned and pissed off that much quicker, will become our biggest detractors when they demit. If all they see is an eternal hand out for more dues money for ever more degrees and appendant bodies, only to find an empty experience at the end of each one, and a promise for better if they join yet another appendant body, I promise all of you, it will be our undoing.

We are poised at an important moment in time, with a brief opportunity to prosper from renewed interest. But that won't happen if we continue to give new members a diluted, unfulfilled, boring, irrelevant and just plain bad experience (and that is true of EVERY Masonic organization). Many have spoken of trying to appeal to new members as a side effect of Templar interest in the popular culture. So, let's say I sit through Kingdom of Heaven or read one of the many books involving Templars that clogged up the New York Times Best Seller List several years ago, or play a hot round of Assassin's Creed, or see a History Channel show about the crusading warrior monks. I go on the net and say, "Hot damn! Templars! Right here in my home town! I want to be a part of that!” What is the end result of that excitement? What do they get, versus what they thought they were getting? What have we, with our public relations or our private talks with them, "sold" them, versus what they find once they are in the Commandery? I'm only asking. And I'm only reacting to my own feelings and many, many remarks I have overheard from former Templars over the last 15 years. That's not a sales problem. That's a retention problem, a problem with the programming, and what a man gets as opposed to what he thought he was getting.


About a decade ago, a group of us in Indiana started a medieval period recreation Templar degree team, called Levant Preceptory. We dress in chainmaille, hauberks, steel helmets, tunics, and wield broadswords. When we make an arch of steel, by God, you hear it. The goal was - and remains - to present the Order of the Temple in an effective, evocative, and more memorable way, in authentic looking wardrobe that makes more sense to initiates in the setting of the ritual. We travel all over the Midwest and perform the ritual only once or twice a year. We operate simply as a degree team under an existing Commandery charter, so we weren't required to do all of the bureaucratic and tactical requirements of starting a new Commandery. And we are very welcoming to any Knights who want to participate with us, from all over our state, and even one brother from an adjoining one. There are no dues, it's all strictly voluntary, and every member has to track down his own equipment online and pay for it himself. When we go on the road, every Sir Knight has to pay his own way. A complete outfit can be had for about the same cost as a new chapeau. 

We do it for the love of it. But what makes it an important illustration to examine is that our members are comprised of many Templars from all over the state who have no interest in drilling, do not hold office, do not regularly attend meetings, and would likely have otherwise demitted eventually from their Commanderies. They pay their York Rite dues every year specifically to do this once or twice annually.

It's just an idea that happened to work for us. Feel free to steal it and claim it as your own, or find another one. Find a way to experiment, while working within the restrictions that exist within our rules — or work your butt off to change them. But I'm begging all Sir Knights everywhere: try everything, and if that doesn't work, try something else. Don't go down without a fight, because what we have is too meaningful and impressive and important to let it wither and fade.

I am not pretending for a minute that every Mason or Templar wants research papers, education, esotericism, dressing in chainmaille, or fencing lessons. I AM suggesting that Freemasonry has, as its stated mission, the goal of making good men better ones. Freemasonry itself is in an important time of change, and Masonic leaders all across the country are trying to reconcile our past with the demands of the future. I AM suggesting that the KT is in serious need of making those kinds of plans as well, and fails to do so at its peril.

I am by no means proclaiming that there is but one path to Freemasonry or Templary. No one begs for greater variety in this fraternity more than I do. But pay heed to what the membership retention numbers are doing, and that is a reflection of the end product: the Commandery experience when the Orders have finally been conferred. Membership drives have proved that the men can be delivered to the door, sometimes even in droves. But the bulk of them do not return, and do not remain.

We have an opportunity to truly make knights, in every sense of the word. We have a unique marketing niche. We have name recognition. We have our own history as well as our legendary namesakes' to call upon. Perhaps Kingdom of Heaven and The Da Vinci Code were missed opportunities. The History Channel just announced a new dramatic series featuring the Knights Templar called Knightfall will be premiering later this year, so we'll probably get a bump again. But I believe we are missing a far larger opportunity here. If we are conferring knighthood in an age when knights are rare, then we could make it so much more than just one interesting night at lodge, followed by a hard-pressure insistence on, yes, marching in a parking lot.

My apologies to lovers of the drill team, but look at your membership rolls and participation in them. You are in the vast minority. And after every Triennial, even more slip away. I'm not trying to be flippant or insulting, honestly. But I'm asking all active and non-active Knights Templar to think very hard about this. The time has come to make difficult decisions, or this will be a moot discussion in a very short time. Don't like my ideas? That's not going to hurt my feelings. I grew up in advertising, and we yelled at each other all the time. But show me yours.  More important, show your Commandery yours. Because I DO know that doing nothing but the same failed thing over and over will always yield the same failed results.

The question for the future direction of the Knights Templar is, do we stay exactly as we have been for 140 years when the post-war uniform manufacturers almost single-handedly turned us, the Knights of Columbus, the Knights of Pythias, the Grand Army of the Republic, and two dozen other groups into cookie-cutter, marching teams in Army surplus equipment? That IS what happened, you know. Or do we seize this moment to make  substantive changes to make 21st century knights? I believe there is a void in both society and in Masonry that could be filled that way. 

By us.

St. John the Baptist Day June 24th

“There is in every regular and well governed Lodge, a certain point within a circle, embordered by two parallel perpendicular lines. . .. “

Today, June 24th, Freemasons celebrate the Feast of St. John Baptist. A curious thing for a non-sectarian group to do. Freemasonry historically acknowledges St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist as its patron saints, reveres their memory, points to their exemplary lives in its ritualistic work, and dedicates its Lodges to them.

In 1740, Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsey, a Scottish expatriate living in France, as Orator of the Grand Lodge of France, first suggested what morphed into the Templar theory of the formation of Freemasons. "During the time of the holy wars in Palestine, several principal lords and citizens associated themselves together, and entered into a vow to re-establish the temples of the Christians in the Holy Land; and engaged themselves by an oath to employ their talents and their fortune in restoring architecture to its primitive institution. They adopted several ancient signs and symbolic words drawn from religion by which they might distinguish themselves from the infidels and recognize each other in the midst of the Saracens. They communicated these signs and words only to those who had solemnly sworn, often at the foot of the altar, never to reveal them. This was not an oath of execration but a bond uniting men of all nations into the same confraternity. Some time after our order was united with the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. Hence our lodges are, in all Christian countries, called Lodges of St. John."

Ramsey largely invented his tale out of whole cloth, and there is nothing to suggest that his account was anything more than a fairy tale.

In what is called the Old York Lecture from about 1770 in England has the following as part of its EA catechism:

"Q. To whom were the lodges dedicated during the Mosaic dispensation?"__"

A. To Moses, the chosen of God, and Solomon, the son of David."__

"Q. And under what name were the Masons known during that period?"__

"A. Under the name of Dionysiacs, Geometricians, or Masters in Israel."__

"Q. But as Solomon was a Jew, and died long before the promulgation of Christianity, to whom were they dedicated under the Christian dispensation?"__

"A. From Solomon the patronage of Masonry passed to St. John the Baptist."__

"Q. And under what name were they known after the promulgation of Christianity?"__

"A. Under the name of Essenes, Architects, or Freemasons."__

"Q. Why were the lodges dedicated to St. John the Baptist?"__

"A. Because he was the forerunner of our Saviour, and by preaching repentance and humiliation, drew the first parallel of the Gospel."__

"Q. Had St. John the Baptist any equal?"__

"A. He had; St. John the Evangelist."__

"Q. Why was he said to be the equal of the Baptist?"__

"A. Because he finished by his learning what the other began by his zeal, and thus drew a second line parallel to the former; ever since which time Freemason's lodges in all Christian countries, have been dedicated to the one, or the other, or both of these worthy and worshipful men."

The Preston Lectures, which is what our own rituals are based upon (by way of Thomas Smith Webb in the US), were the standard in England until the reconciliation between the "Ancient" and "Modern" factions in 1813, when a compromise was developed. References to the Saints were removed, the parallel lines were said to represent Moses and Solomon, and the lodges dedicated "to God and his service." Our English brethren removed the saints to eliminate any hint of religious sectarianism.

In our American version, one of the least understood symbols is a certain point within a circle, bounded by two parallel lines, with the volume of sacred law at the top.

The symbol is actually based on an old astrological and alchemical symbol. The point in the center represented the Earth, which was thought to be the center of the universe. The heavens were believed to spin around the Earth, represented by the circle. The two lines represented the summer and winter solstices, the longest and shortest days of the year. For thousands of years, these days were celebrated as pagan feast days all over the world, and they were especially important to farming societies, because they were the astronomical methods of determining planting seasons.

In about 300A.D., the Catholic Church began to dedicate popular pagan feast days to the saints. June 24th, the longest day of the year, was declared St. John the Baptist day, while December 27th, the shortest day, was dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. Collectively, Masons refer to them as the Holy Saints John.

Operative Freemasonry was first developed when Roman Catholicism was the prevailing religion, and these feast days continued under the Church of England. It was common for guilds and other trade groups to adopt a patron saint or two. Some Masons picked both Saints John, and over the centuries Masons commonly celebrate their feast days with banquets. And curiously, even though Freemasonry today is non-denominational and non-sectarian, American Masons have retained these customs of old. Many rituals in America say that Masons come “from a lodge of the Holy Saints John of Jerusalem,” while in other parts of the world, lodges are dedicated to King Solomon.

John the Baptist was zealous, while John the Evangelist was learned, and by picking both of them as patron saints, Masons symbolically united both passion and reason.

The symbol also shows the Volume of Sacred Law at the top. In Masonry, the point represents the individual, and the circle is the boundary of his actions. Taken as a whole, the symbol implies that a Mason should consult the sacred texts of his own religion to achieve the proper balance between passion and intensity on one side, and knowledge and education on the other. In other words, he should balance education, excitement and faith to effectively subdue his passions. In a way, it is a graphic representation of the conscience.

More information about the Feast of St. John the Evangelist from Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs by Fr. Francis X. Weiser, SJ:

This saint was highly honored throughout the whole Church from the beginning. Proof of this is, among other things, the fact that fifteen churches were dedicated to him in the ancient imperial city of Constantinople. Being the precursor of our Lord, he was accorded the same honor as the first great saints of the Christian era, although he belonged to the Old Covenant. The fact that Christ praised him so highly (Matthew 11, 11) encouraged, of course, a special veneration. Accordingly, we find a regular cycle of feasts in his honor among the early Christian churches.

[snip]

The question arises of why June 24, and not 25. It has often been claimed that the Church authorities wanted to "Christianize" the pagan solstice celebrations and for this reason advanced Saint John's feast as a substitute for the former pagan festival. However, the real reason why Saint John's Day falls on June 24 lies in the Roman way of counting, which proceeded backward from the calends (first day) of the succeeding month. Christmas was "the eighth day before the Kalends of January" (Octavo Kalendas Januarii). Consequently, Saint John's nativity was put on the "eighth day before the Kalends of July." However, since June has only thirty days, in our way of counting the feast falls on June 24.

[snip]

The Baptist is patron of tailors (because he made his own garments in the desert), of shepherds (because he spoke of the "Lamb of God"), and of masons. This patronage over masons is traced to his words:

Make ready the way of the Lord, make straight all his paths. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, And the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways smooth. (Luke 3, 4-6.)
All over Europe, from Scandinavia to Spain, and from Ireland to Russia, Saint John's Day festivities are closely associated with the ancient nature lore of the great summer festival of pre-Christian times. Fires are lighted on mountains and hilltops on the eve of his feast. These "Saint John's fires" burn brightly and quietly along the fiords of Norway, on the peaks of the Alps, on the slopes of the Pyrenees, and on the mountains of Spain (where they are called Hogueras). They were an ancient symbol of the warmth and light of the sun which the forefathers greeted at the beginning of summer. In many places, great celebrations are held with dances, games, and outdoor meals.

Fishermen from Brittany keep this custom even while far out at sea in the Arctic Ocean. They hoist a barrel filled with castoff clothing to the tip of the mainsail yard and set the contents on fire. All ships of the fishing fleet light up at the same time, about eight o'clock in the evening. The men gather around the mast, pray and sing. Afterward they celebrate in their quarters, and the captain gives each crew member double pay.

Another custom is that of lighting many small fires in the valleys and plains. People gather around, jump through the flames, and sing traditional songs in praise of the saint or of summer. This custom is based on the pre-Christian "need fires" (niedfyr, nodfyr) which were believed to cleanse, cure, and immunize people from all kinds of disease, curses, and dangers. In Spain these smaller fires (fogatas) are lighted in the streets of towns and cities, everybody contributing some old furniture or other wood, while children jump over the flames. In Brest, France, the bonfires are replaced by lighted torches which people throw in the air. In other districts of France they cover wagon wheels with straw, then set them on fire with a blessed candle and roll them down the hill slopes.



Thursday, June 23, 2016

Paris Masonic Exhibition Continues Through 7/24

A major exhibition on Freemasonry is still going on until July 24th in Paris, France at the Biliotheque Nationale de France (BNF) in conjunction with the Grand Orient of France's Musee de la Franc-Maçonnerie. The following description is loosely translated (thanks to my high school French and Google) from Hiram.be le Blog Macconique:
The National Library of France, which maintains one of the largest Masonic funds in the world, dedicates a major exhibition at the French Freemasonry. In partnership with the Museum of Freemasonry, it presents more than 450 pieces, some never before shown, from the collections of the Library but also the main French persuasions or outstanding foreign loans. The origins of Freemasonry, the history of its establishment in France, its symbols and rituals, its contributions in many fields - political, religious, artistic and philosophical - finally evoking the legends attached to it constitute the course this exhibition which aims to understand, in a didactic spirit, what Freemasonry.
The exhibition first retraces the origins - sometimes mysterious - of modern Freemasonry. How, during the 17th century in Britain, a professional brotherhood became a social meeting organization? Exceptional documents such as medieval manuscripts of the Old Charges dating from 1390 and 1425 are on loan from the British Library. The Grand Lodge of Scotland has agreed to show the famous  William Schaw Statutes of 1599, the first "architectural book" (registry records) known for a Lodge dating back to the end of the 16th century that will leave Edinburgh the first time.
Visitors can also discover the original alchemist Elias Ashmole's newspaper describing his initiation in 1645, and the earliest documents of French Freemasonry, seized by Louis XV's police in the 1730s.
The exhibition then introduces the visitor into the world of symbols and rituals of Freemasonry. What is "initiation"? How does the "symbolic method" work? What are the main rites? How is life in the Lodge? Notable pieces are again presented, such as the singular Christmas Manuscripts of 1812, a real course of mystical symbolism illustrated with hundreds of drawings and watercolors.
In France - the Enlightenment of the 18th century with the formation of the Third Republic - Freemasonry was involved in the public debate: tolerance, secularism, education, and solidarity. The lodges moved from a sincere philosophical liberalism , to republican activism and secularism. Relying in particular on a series of documents relating to the famous Lodge of the Nine Sisters, led by Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire (who was initiated in 1778), the exhibition shows how the Freemasons supported the movement that gave birth to the values ​​of 1789 and marked the history of the Republic. The manuscript of  La Marseillaise by Rouget de Lisle is set against the testimonies of his Masonic life. From Victor Schoelcher to Jules Ferry, the "founding fathers" of the Republic in France see themselves devote sequences paralleling their great achievements and their Masonic commitment.
Finally, the exhibition explores the mythology aroused by Freemasonry from its origins: black legends with fantasies of a multifaceted anti-masonry, picturesque or virulent golden legends with the staging of Freemasonry in the arts and letters, the Magic Flute by Mozart and  Corto Maltese cartoonist Hugo Pratt, through the works of Tolstoy and Kipling.
The exhibition opens and closes with an overview of current Freemasonry and videos interviews with Masons of today.

More Books Stolen By Nazis Returned To Freemasons


The AP is reporting news out of Germany this morning:
The Berlin State Library is returning 384 books, magazines and other publications dating back to the 18th century to a Freemason Lodge after determining they were stolen by the Nazis in the 1930s.
Matthias Bohn, the head of the Johannis Lodge "Teutonia zur Weisheit" in Potsdam, said Thursday the books were important for the history of his organization, and contained "the stamps and traces of their previous owners."
The Potsdam lodge, which held one of the biggest Freemason's libraries in Germany, closed when Freemasonry was banned by the Nazis. It didn't reopen until 1991.
Hermann Parzinger, president of the foundation overseeing Berlin's museums and state library, said it is committed to researching the provenance of its works and returning items stolen during the Nazi era.
In March, it was announced that a trove of 13,000 books, confiscated by the SS from the library of the Norwegian Order of Freemasons and others, and recently rediscovered in Oslo, were being turned over to a joint project between state libraries in Norway and Czechoslovakia. 

In 2002, 750 crates of Masonic objects and papers stolen from occupied lodges and Grand Lodges across Europe and held by the Russian Military State Archive were delivered to the Museum of Freemasonry of the Grand Orient of France in Paris. These included membership lists that were used to help round up Freemasons to be sent to concentration camps. (The entire library of the Grand Orient of France was confiscated when the Nazis occupied Paris, and the books were taken to Berlin and subsequently burned.) 

A lengthy work, Restitution of Confiscated Art Works - Wish Or Reality?, was published in Czechoslovakia in 2008 as a collection of presentations from a conference in the city of Liberec. Buried in it are several references to the SS's RSHA Amt VII unit's activities in assembling a vast library on the occult, witchcraft, esoteric, and Masonic books, eventually estimated to be in excess of 160,000 volumes. It is believed that the massive collection was eventually destined to be housed in Himmler's Wewelsburg castle.

For a much more detailed post on this, SEE HERE.

"Lets Try Templary"

From the Knight Templar Magazine, Volume LXIII, Number 7, July 2016, pages 30-31, written by our own Sir Knight Carson Smith, Past Commander of Raper Commandery No. 1 in Indianapolis:




“Let’s Try Templary”
“Whence come you?”
It is frequently reported that Membership in the Knights Templar in the State of Indiana has been, as is the case with all of our Masonic Bodies, decreasing since 1969.
In an effort to slow the decline, recruitment programs have been developed that have included everything from brochures, to posters, to DVD’s, to window decals.
Both the Grand Encampment, and the Grand Commandery, have incentivized new member recruitment efforts by offering medals, cordons and embroidered jackets.
The programs developed have enjoyed varying degrees of success, but the fact of the matter is that deaths and demits continue to thwart our efforts to increase membership.
Halting our decline and maintaining and increasing our membership requires a three-fold approach that emphasizes recruitment, retention, and restoration.

Communication
By improving our communication, by every means available to us, and by meeting, and exceeding, the expectations of our Sir Knights, we can significantly reduce our demits.
To reach a digital generation that lives online, we must communicate as they do, through frequent email, interactive websites, and social media, including Facebook and Twitter.
If all that our Sir Knights ever receive from their Commandery is a dues statement, our younger members, in particular, will continue to leave, and our Commanderies will fold. 

“Whither are you travelling?”
Unlike the Chapter and the Council, which are derivatives of Ancient Craft Masonry, the Commandery has a language, usages and practices that are peculiar to Templary.
While we recognize our position as one part of the York Rite, the unique aspects of Templary create a singular identity, and serve to foster pride of membership.
And there are Commanderies that draw Sir Knights from other Commanderies, by way of affiliation or transfer, due to their emphasis upon maintaining “a Templar culture”.

“Let’s try Templary.”
To paraphrase Dwight L. Smith, in Whither Are We Traveling, “Let’s try Templary.”

Are your new Sir Knights given the Grand Encampment’s new member packet?
Are your new Sir Knights given the links to our York Rite websites?
Are your new Sir Knights given a mentor and assigned a role or task, large or small?
“Let’s try Templary.”
Do your Sir Knights have their own copy of the official ritual?
Do your Sir Knights have their own copy of the latest revision of the tactics?
Do your Sir Knights have their own copy of the officer’s manual?”
“Let’s try Templary.”
Do you open your Commandery monthly?
Do you open your Commandery monthly, and in uniform?
Do you open your Commandery monthly, and in uniform, with rehearsal of duties?
“Let’s try Templary.”
Do your Sir Knights have well maintained uniforms, and do they wear them correctly?
Do your Sir Knights understand Templar protocol?
Do your Sir Knights know their sword arm from their bridle arm?
“Let’s try Templary.”
Do you have a program for Templar education, ancient and modern?
Do you have a drill team and, if not, are you capable of attempting a pass in review?
Do you have a Beauceant or a ladies auxiliary or family activities?
“Let’s try Templary.”
Do your Sir Knights go to the Blue Lodge to present the United States flag?
Do your Sir Knights go to the Blue Lodge to present the York Rite?
Do your Sir Knights go to the Blue Lodge to present the Commandery?
“Let’s try Templary.”
Do your Members believe that being a Templar is something special?
Do your Members believe that being a Templar is simply a completion of the York Rite?
Do your Members believe that being a Templar is just one more dues card?
“Let’s try Templary.”
Having exalted a Royal Arch Mason, greeted him as a Royal & Select Master, dubbed and created him as a Knight of the Temple, we allow him to demit, without a word.
When we are able to provide our Sir Knights with a meaningful fraternal experience, we can go so far as to reach out to former members and draw them back into our midst.
We must acknowledge, without apology, that Templary at every level, was, is, and shall remain, for the foreseeable future, the most costly body to which one may belong.
“There is nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse, and sell a little cheaper, and he who considers price only is that man's lawful prey.” - John Ruskin
We must not, in the pursuit of our objectives, be tempted to lower our standards, or be seduced by the notion that bigger is better. Bigger is not better. Better is better, and who knows, if we get better, we might just get bigger.

Sir Knight Carson C. Smith, KCT, KTCH
Past Commander
Raper Commandery No. 1